Tuesday, February 20, 2007

make mission tangible

This blog has gotten away from me again. If you’ll check back, you’ll note that that has happened several times now. I write, and I write, and I write and then, at some point, I give the blog away and allow it to become a forum. It’s hard to find a balance sometimes. I’m so passionate about so many issues that it’s easy to use this as a public forum instead of a place to simply journal about life. I’m sure I’ll lose the balance again, but for now, I’m going to at least try to get back on track.

One of the issues I’ve been really thinking through lately is the idea of authenticating my faith. I suppose, from the very beginning, that this has been a struggle. Cane killed Abel (or was it the other way around?) for what he saw as a de-authentication of Cane’s faith. The children of Israel looked to Moses to authenticate their faith, rather than going up on the mountain and meeting with God themselves. Even Paul spoke of some of the early Christians as drinking spiritual milk, rather than eating spiritual meat. And, in today’s day and age, we gripe about uninspiring sermons, boring and tired worship, and the lack of social service/justice opportunities provided in our local churches. Even today we’re looking for our church leaders to authenticate our faith, rather than owning our faith and getting out there and authenticating it ourselves.

This week I set out to change that in my own life. I’ve shared on here before that I’m tired of Make Poverty History campaigns that seem to challenge you to do nothing more than buy and wear a trendy bracelet, or Live 8 concerts that seem to challenge you to do nothing more than…well…go to a concert. I want to do more than just talk about fighting injustice. Yes, human trafficking is bad, now what are you going to do about it? I want to actually be in the fight. So today I met with a police officer in our community that I’ve done some work with before. I wanted to speak with her about two specific issues that deal very much with social justice in our neighbourhood. One had to do with some con artists that show up each year. This particular issue seems to have worked itself out in that some of the laws have changed that now allow the police to go in and kick these guys out which, incidentally, explains why I’ve not see those guys in a while. The other issue revolved around the “saunas” and so-called “massage parlours” that exist around our neighbourhood. My concern is not that sex is being sold in these places, but simply that women may be being trafficked in to do it. I spoke with the officer about it for a while. She assured me that her team make regular appearances in the places in our community, and that they assure the women that if they want to get out, they can get out then and there. I hope that’s true. In her opinion, the women in the places I was referring to are not trafficked in. I’m not sure that I believe that and intend to keep pushing it. There were a few other places, however, where she said the women had been trafficked in and were immediately shut down.

I did get a chance to talk with her about a whole host of other issues though, and made it very clear that we want to help. The amazing thing was that she voiced her cynicism and also made it clear that there would be a building full of cynical officers back at the precinct. I smiled and said, “And that’s why this will work. Because I’m cynical too! And that’s why I’m approaching you about this.” I went on to share my cynicism in a religion that is all talk and centres its life around a Sunday morning meeting. And in a religion that talks about injustice, but never gets around to actually doing anything about it. I told her that I was on a personal mission to authenticate my faith by getting involved which ended up leading to a discussion of Christianity and the message of Christ. It was an encouraging conversation. By the end of it we had brainstormed several ideas, and she was going back to the precinct to speak with her Sergeant about it all. (Incidentally, she had also agreed to teach a beginners Karate workshop at my Youth Councils in October.) Thirty minutes after she left, I had already received an email from her with ideas she and her Sergeant were working on.

I have not accomplished anything yet. But there is this glimmer of hope that maybe I’m finally onto something here. When I left my childhood denomination, I was looking for something more than I saw around me on a Sunday morning. I felt like I was doing Christian theatre, showing up on Sundays and entertaining Christians. I came to the Salvation Army because I believed that it was a church of action. I have learned, since that big move to Pittsburgh a little over eight years ago, that there are people riding pine in any denomination and that, if you want your religion to be authentic, only you can make that happen. Otherwise you’re simply riding the coat tails of other people’s authenticity.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

flow fatal

I’ve heard from three old friends this week. That’s always a good week.

One was the girl I asked to my 10th grade church valentines banquet. She could drive, but I couldn’t, and I was a traditional sort of guy so I got one of my friends to drive us. Trey drove and we sat in the back seat of his station wagon as if it was a freaking limousine. And then, because the whole situation wasn’t dorky enough, I recorded George Michael’s Father Figure over and over again on the same tape and allowed it to play, over and over again on the way to the banquet. Oh man, I was such a dork and I am sooooo sorry Krista.

The second was a guy that I’ve known since the 5th grade. Brandon. I’ve got a lot of funny memories of Brandon. We used to have knock down dragouts on religion, specifically as it related to the world of Southern Baptistism (made that word up) and the Assemblies of God. We were good friends, but at total odds on things like tongues and whether or not you could lose your salvation. It’s funny how far we’ve come since then. I’m now serving in the Salvation Army and Brandon is a worship minister in a Methodists church. Wow!

And then there’s Elizabeth. Dear, dear Elizabeth. I’d call Elizabeth one of my best friends in high school. In fact, I have called her that. You know those movies with the pretty girl and the dorky guy who happen to be good friends? That was us. My friends used to ask me all the time why I didn’t ask her out. I played it cool, but the answer was “because she’d say NO!” Haha. Elizabeth taught me a lot about faith and sacrifice, but one of the most important things she did was to help me to set some dating standards, standards that very much kept me on the straight and narrow and standards that I credit to eventually leading me to Jamie, that awesome chick I’m married to. Sadly, Jamie wasn’t nearly as hard core about her own dating standards, but whatever. So, for those of you who’ve heard me speak on the subject of dating, just know that I stole half that stuff from Elizabeth.

A friend of mine recently wrote me with, what appeared to be, another version of the make poverty history bracelet. One more item we can wear or post on our blogs to make ourselves feel like we’re actually doing something. Now, truth be told, there may be more to my friend’s idea than that. I don’t know, I didn’t ask, and it was wrong of me to jump to conclusions. But, even as I apologized to my friend for the possible misunderstanding, it finally dawned on me why I hate those campaigns so much. The obvious answer is what I’ve already stated; that I hate anything that can allow Christians to go on feeling like they’re actually about God’s business, when all they’re really doing is talking about being about God’s business. Particularly when it comes to the subject of social justice. But the truth is, I hate it about myself. When I see those bracelets and blog banners, I’m really reminded that I too am just talking about social justice, but not really doing much to get my hands dirty. Being a hypocrite is…well…the worst. And so, this week, I strike out to try and change that about myself. Hopefully my own “stop human trafficking” banner will soon be written across my heart.

I read a funny phrase this week that was attributed to Rick Rueben. Rueben is the producer who first produced the Beasty Boys and has gone on to produce everybody from the Chili Peppers, to Justin Timberlake, to the Dixie Chicks, to Jay Z, and the list goes on and on. In fact, he’s nominated for a Grammy this year for producer of the year. It’s a lock and he should probably be receiving one for producer of the last two decades. Anyway, when asked about how he chooses whom he will produce and whom he won’t, he said that sits down and asks the artist to play some of their songs on an acoustic guitar or piano. He said something that I’ve always believed and that was that, if a song can sound good on piano or acoustic guitar, then it’s a good song. I totally agree. But then he made another statement that made me laugh. He said that there’s nothing even he can do when an artist is “metaphorically challenged”. Haha. Sadly I very much relate to that. I’ve been asked before why I never pursued music on a full time basis. I’ve always answered that I simply didn’t have the guts. I’ve often also thrown in that I’m not disciplined enough. But the truth is, I’m also just not a good enough writer. However, until this article, I could never quite define why. But now I know. I’m metaphorically challenged. Things like “a sky that was blue like jazz” just do not naturally come out of me, and so I’m stuck with covering other people’s songs or my own very average attempts. Sigh. I turn 35 this year and my dream of rock stardom is slowly…or maybe quickly, slipping away.

Good night Kirk. I’ll never write like you, because I never had any idea what you were trying to say. The sun is gone, but I still have a light.